Here is Part 1 of 100 absolutely fascinating words in Chinese that you really should know. These are quintessential Mandarin words – so quintessential that if you don’t happen to know them I’d say you’re really missing out! I’d say all of these are quite common both in speaking and writing – they’re also highly expressive and vivid terms and as a result, if you master how to use them properly, they can be quite powerful. In fact, in my view, each one of them represents a tiny morsel of Chinese culture that all learners should be aware of. And I hope the translations will be useful for Chinese learners of English too. Parts 2, 3 and 4 will be posted over the next two weeks. Enjoy.
Words chosen in this post
1. 赌气 dǔqì, 2. 熏陶 xūntáo, 3. 封建 fēngjiàn, 4. 糟蹋 zāotà, 5. 德性 déxing, 6. 彪悍 biāohàn, 7. 磨唧 mòji, 8. 冤枉 yuānwang, 9. 霸道 bàdào, 10. 耍赖 shuǎlài, 11. 气场 qìchǎng, 12. 得瑟 dèse, 13. 翻臉 fānliǎn, 14. 辟邪 bìxié, 15. 利索 lìsuǒ, 16. 怂恿 sǒngyǒng, 17. 猎艳 lièyàn, 18. 皮毛 pímáo, 19. 嗑药 kēyào, 20. 笑点 xiàodiǎn, 21. 淡定 dàndìng, 22. 刁钻 diāozuān, 23. 缘分 yuánfèn, 24. 意境 yìjìng, 25. 抬杠 táigàng
Carl’s Top 100 Chinese Words – Part 1
In absolutely no particular order…
1. 赌气 dǔqì
to act rashly out of spite; to get into a rage
赌气不是解决问题的办法！ Getting into a rage is no way to solve a problem!
别和我赌气了，我这不是已经认错了嘛。Don’t get angry with me – I’ve already admitted my mistake, haven’t I?
这些事都是老天注定的，你不能和命运赌气。These kind of things are in God’s hands – you can’t get mad with fate.
2. 熏陶 xūntáo
to be positively influenced by people’s ideas, behaviour, interests, habits, etc. over a long period of time
他在西方文化熏陶下长大。He grew up under the nurturing influence of Western culture.
Note: Almost always used to refer to a long-period of influence, such as one’s childhood or formative years.
3. 封建 fēngjiàn
(literally) feudal; feudalistic; feudalism; (idiomatically) outdated; conversative; medieval; anachronistic [formal]; backwards
你的思想太封建了。Your thinking is too feudalistic (outdated; medieval).
她爸妈太封建了，上大学都不让她谈恋爱。Her parents are too conservative, they won’t let her date anyone while she’s at uni.
封建社会特别注重宗法礼仪。Patriarchal rituals are a common feature of feudal societies.
腐朽的封建制度必被社会主义所取代。The degenerate feudal society must be surplanted by socialism.
Note: There is a cultural difference. While in China “feudalism” (封建) is a commonly expressed concept in conversation, in English the word is usually restricted to formal or historical contexts. Thus, in many cases what is being inferred to in Chinese is not the social system of feudalism per se but rather outdated or rigidly conservative ideas about social norms.
4. 糟蹋 zāotà
1. to waste
吃不完就打包，别糟蹋粮食。If you can’t finish, get a doggy bag – don’t waste food.
不要拿钱瞎糟蹋。Don’t waste money.
2. to rape; to ravage and humilitate sb
她上班的头一个月就被老板给糟蹋了。She was raped by her boss during her first month of employment.
5. 德性 déxing
revolting behaviour or speech
瞧你那副德性，就你这熊样还想当电影明星？Take a good look in the mirror – how can a loser like you be a movie star?
瞧你这种德性，怪不得没人喜欢。You’re so revolting, no wonder no one likes you.
* Most commonly used in the structure瞧…德性. You will hear 那幅 and 这种 alternately, or sometimes副 will be omitted.
* 德性 déxing should not be confused with 德行 déxíng “moral/ethical conduct”, e.g. 这个人总说脏话，真没德行。He always swears, he’s so vile.
6. 彪悍 biāohàn
小说里面的那个战士很彪悍。The warrior in this novel is very valiant.
他手下的士兵都很彪悍。All the soldiers under his command are valiant.
2. strong, brave, fierce and bold
看门的那两个小伙长得都很彪悍。Those two guys watching the door look pretty tough.
东北女的彪悍，很厉害，很敢说。Girls from Northeast China are pretty tough and direct.
7. 磨唧 mòji
1. to talk rubbish
别磨叽了，有话就说，爽快点。Stop talking rubbish – if you have something to say, say it.
2. to dillydally; to dawdle
你总是磨磨唧唧的，什么好事都被你耽搁了。You’re always dillydallying, and holding up good things from happening.
* Meaning 2 can be replaced by 磨蹭 móceng.
8. 冤枉 yuānwang
1. to treat sb unjustly; to do sth wrong (v.)
别冤枉一个好人。Don’t do a good person wrong.
2. unjust treatment (n.)
你有什么冤枉，尽管说吧。If you feel you’ve been hard done by, do speak up.
3. having suffered unjust treatment; wronged; unjust; to be hard done by (adj.)
他被开除很冤枉。He was unfairly sacked.
警察同志，我真是冤枉的啊！ Officer, you’ve treated me so unfairly!
4. unnecessary; unworthwhile (adj.)
他花了冤枉钱。He didn’t get his money’s worth.
9. 霸道 bàdào
1. rude, unreasonable and violent; domineering; tyrannical
吃饭不给钱，这人也太霸道了吧。The guy didn’t pay after he had his meal. He’s so rude and reasonable.
这个霸道的人总是欺负别人。This domineering person is always bullying others.
2. (of liquor, medicine, etc.) strong; potent (pronounced bàdao)
* The original meaning of 霸道 referred to the Way of the Hegemon (霸王之道), as well as evil as opposed to the Way of the King (王道).
* The secondary meaning of “strong; potent” is uncommon; many native speakers may not have heard of it.
10. 耍赖 shuǎlài
to act unreasonably and dishonourably; to play dirty tricks; to try to get away with something dodgy; to try to brazenly get away with sth; to feign ignorance; to act dumb
你输了可别耍赖。You lost, don’t try to act dumb.
证据确凿，看你还敢不敢耍赖。Let’s see whether you still want to feign ignorance now we know the evidence is conclusive.
小明耍赖起来很可爱。Xiao Ming is so cute when she plays dumb.
他明明说好，如果考试通过，就给我50元，却耍赖不给，真骗人。 He agreed that if I pass my exam he’d give me 50 yuan, but now he’s acting as if it never happened. What a con artist!
* This is a notoriously difficult word to translate into English, as no real equivalent exists. Basically it refers to a situation where a person does something dishonest even though everyone knows that what he or she is doing is wrong, though no one is willing to reveal the truth because no one wants to lose face.
11. 气场 qìchǎng
(of a person) an aura of magnetism; a striking personality; charisma
这个领导很有气场，不论是客户还是员工都会被这个气场感染到。This leader has a real aura of magnetism about him. Both clients and employees are drawn to him.
他有超强的气场。He’s a real head-turner.
这个人很有气场，很能Hold的住整个场子。He has a such a striking personality that he can captivate the audience.
* The word is literally composed of 气 (“qi; energy; life force”) and 场 (“field”).
* Common collocations include 某个人很有气场， 某个人有超强的气场 and 某个人气场强大.
12. 得瑟 dèse
to show off
别在那瞎得瑟了。Stop showing off.
看你那得瑟样，不就是交了个新女朋友嘛。What are you so smug about? You got a new girlfriend – so what?
你别跟我得瑟阿，下次你就没有这么好运气了。Stop bragging. Next time you won’t be so lucky.
* Colloquial; originally from Northeastern Mandarin.
* Synonyms: 显摆 (pronounced xiǎnbei in Northeastern Mandarin)
* Common collocations include看你那得瑟样, 跟某个人得瑟 and 看把你得瑟的.
13. 翻臉 fānliǎn
to suddenly turn hostile towards sb and break off relations with them; to fall out with sb; to turn against a friend; to cut a friend out of one’s life
你要是下次再干这种事，我和你丫翻脸！If you do this kind of thing again, girly, I can’t be friends with you anymore.
别怪我翻脸不认人啊。Don’t blame me if I decide to cut you out of my life.
他再不还钱我就跟他翻脸了。If you don’t return the money, our friendship is over.
14. 辟邪 bìxié
to ward off evil spirits
妈妈让我佩戴佛像用来辟邪。My mum got me to wear a Buddha to ward off evil spirits.
这个护身符可以避邪。This amulet can repel evil spirits.
据说在地上撒点大米可以避邪。It is said that sprinkling rice on the floor can ward off evil spirits.
15. 利索 lìsuǒ
1. sprightly; nimble; agile; quick on one’s feet
他年纪大了，行动不利索了。He’s getting on, and not as quick on his feet as he used to be.
你要多向长辈们学习！办事情要利索！You should learn more from those older than you. When getting things done, speed is the key.
这事儿你得办得干净利索点儿。You must handle this neatly and quickly.
* 利落 and 麻利 are synonyms.
16. 怂恿 sǒngyǒng
to egg sb on; to incite
别怂恿我做坏事。Don’t try and get me to do bad things.
你别老是怂恿我吸烟。Stop trying to get me to smoke.
我本来不想做那件事，但是他一直怂恿我。I didn’t want to do it at first but he kept on egging me on.
17. 猎艳 lièyàn
to try to pick up (at a bar, club, etc.); to go on the prowl
他喜欢去夜店猎艳。He likes going clubbing to pick up.
今天去酒吧猎艳去，希望能钓一个美女。Let’s go to a bar and try to pick up. I hope we can score with a hot chick.
18. 皮毛 pímáo
这只狮子的皮毛很光滑。The lion’s fur is so shiny.
2. superficial knowledge
他只学了点皮毛而已。He only learnt some superficial things.
我对这事就懂个皮毛。I only have a superficial understanding of this.
19. 嗑药 kēyào
to take drugs; to get high
我就知道他嗑药了，不然不会胡说八道。I knew he was on drugs, otherwise he wouldn’t be talking such rubbish.
在酒吧玩别嗑药啊。When you go to the bar don’t take any drugs.
你都快不行了，还嗑什么药啊。You’re on death’s bed, why the hell do you want to get high? (Note the cultural difference here – the Chinese makes sense while the English sounds strange.)
20. 笑点 xiàodiǎn
1. (of a person) “laugh point” – the ease with which one laughs
他的笑点很低。He laughs at the drop of a hat.
2. (of a joke) punchline
这个就是笑话的笑点。This is the joke’s punchline.
还喜剧呢，连个笑点都没有。Is this really a comedy? It hasn’t even got any punchlines.
21. 淡定 dàndìng
cool, calm and collected
出了这么大的事儿，你怎么还能这么淡定？ How can you be so cool, calm and collected after such a serious incident?
别激动，淡定点。Don’t freak out. Calm down.
看完这个视频后，我不淡定了。I freaked out after watching this movie.
22. 刁钻 diāozuān
1. difficult; tricky
他问了一些刁钻的问题。He asked some tricky questions.
2. sly; cunning; crafty
我听说他的老板很刁钻，总是在工作中吝啬。I’ve heard his boss is very sly – he’s always stingy at work.
23. 缘分 yuánfèn
我们很有缘分呢！We were destined to be together.
我跟他没有缘分。 We were not meant to be together.
今天又遇到你了真是缘分啊！It was fate that I bumped into you today.
24. 意境 yìjìng
imagery; creative concept; artistic conception, representation or connotation
这幅画给人一种特殊的意境。This painting gives off a special kind of imagery.
这首诗歌很有意境。 This poem is very evocative.
这意境多么美啊！This imagery is so beautiful!
25. 抬杠 táigàng
to bicker; to squabble; to argue for the sake of arguing
你这孩子总和父母抬杠。The kid always squabbles with his parents.
我说一个观点，你就举出一个反例，你怎么总和我抬杠？I express my opinion and you always try to counteract it. Why do you always try to bicker with me?
* Originally referred to carrying a coffin on poles.
* 抬杠子 is a common alternative form.